Despite being touted by members of the international community as a stable African country, Cameroon unfortunately suffers from an abundance of human rights abuses. The Global Conscience Initiative’s main objective is to resolve and eliminate these issues that negatively impact the lives of Cameroonians today.
For years, Cameroon has remained at the bottom of Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, even to the point of twice receiving honors as the most corrupt country in the world. Most recently, it ranked 146 out of 178 countries in 2010. The country’s notorious corruption, whether manifested through bribery, extortion, tribalism, or favoritism, remains a looming problem for transparent democracy and Cameroonian human rights.
Corruption in Cameroon is such a widespread epidemic due to a lack of accountability, transparency, and rule of law in both private and public institutions. Poverty is also a contributing factor, where individuals supplement insufficient incomes by extorting money from other people. The negative effects of corruption are copious and destructive to Cameroon. Corruption undermines the justice system and by jeopardizing fair judgment and equal treatment; likewise, it undercuts public security by interfering with a police force or vigilante group’s proper law enforcement. It sabotages the rule of law, which ensures collective wellbeing over the benefit of a few individuals; in turn, this prohibits national progress and development. By interfering with equality amongst citizens, corruption also destabilizes democracy and violates each citizen’s access to human rights.
In Cameroon, corruption can be diminished and eventually eliminated through several steps. First, since corruption operates under secrecy and privacy, transparency and open access to information help keep the public informed about the inner workings of the government, thus exposing underhanded activities. Second, people’s naiveté concerning their civil and judicial rights also makes public institutions vulnerable to corruption; civil education about political rights, the legal process, and government functions also help to alleviate corruption. Third, adequately and uniformly punishing corruption engenders accountability, ensuring equality under the law.
Since calls for the elimination of corruption reached a fever pitch in 2006, the Cameroonian government has enacted several initiatives to crack down on corruption, including the creation of the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC). According to the organization’s February 2011 report, the country lost 1.8 trillion CFA to corruption between 1998 and 2004—an estimate which the organization itself recognizes as modest at best. The NACC’s new strategy, also outlined in the 2011 report, seeks to create a nation of integrity by 2015 by specifically targeting reform in the public investment budget, public contracts, customs, taxes, and the treasury department. While this particular plan is an important and optimistic step forward, implementation will remain a challenge in Cameroon since corruption is so severely ingrained in public and government practice.
For the past few decades, Cameroon has demonstrated a fairly poor record in protecting the civil liberties of its citizens, especially concerning the freedoms of expression, association, and assembly. The government has actively repressed the freedom of the press, especially during elections, and it has clamped down on political opposition in a way that infringes on Cameroonians’ rights to gather, protest, and speak out against the government.
In 2008, at the peak of unrest surrounding the passage of the constitutional amendment that abolished executive term limits, the government subjectively arrested and detained journalists reporting on corruption and government abuses of power. These detainees were subsequently lauded with politically-motivated defamation charges. Human rights defenders from several prominent NGO’s were harassed, threatened, and even arrested in retribution for their criticism of the government. Cameroon’s police force frequently used unnecessary violence, arbitrary arrests, and unlawful detentions to quell demonstrations and to shut down activists’ meetings.
Today, journalists and activists who are vocally critical of the government continue to face pressure to moderate their opinions. Several such critics still languish in prison after receiving convictions of charges like fraud, “revealing confidential information, “ or “using false documents”; one journalist even died in custody in April 2010. Other outspoken activists and organizations continue to face government censure, including non-violent political action groups, trade unions, and civil society associations.
In order to counteract these violations of civil liberties, the Cameroonian government needs to strengthen its commitment to protecting the civil liberties of its citizens instead of allowing the domination of political agendas. Media groups and individual journalists alike have a duty to report such abuses; constant publicity will both expose these incidents as well as exert pressure on the government to change its actions. International attention and pressure is also necessary for the resolution of these violations.
Prisoners’ Rights and Criminal Procedure
From the conditions of the prisons to the high incidence of unlawfully detained prisoners, to the lapses in proper criminal procedure, the dismal status of prisoners’ rights in Cameroon continues to plague the nation’s human rights record. The national prison system is often mired in despicable conditions, from inadequate medical care to insufficient food provisions. Due to a lack of funding, Cameroonian prisons are often overcrowded and serviced by guards who are inadequately trained, poorly equipped, and short-staffed. In some prisons, detainees awaiting trial are locked in the same cells as convicts. In other facilities, mentally ill inmates are denied psychiatric care. Deaths occur in the country’s prisons due to intolerable heat, disease, and violence inflicted upon inmates during prison breaks and riots.
In addition to violations of prisoners’ rights, Cameroon has also demonstrated several failings in consistently adhering to criminal procedure, which is crucial in ensuring fair treatment for citizens under the law. One aspect of these deficiencies is bail. Oftentimes, police will over bail suspects charged with a crime in order to pocket the extra money. This practice is not only a prime example of corruption, but it also demonstrates the abuse of criminal procedure that occurs within the justice system. Another deficiency in the system is administrative detention, or imprisonment by a government executive without trial for the purpose of “maintenance of law and order.” Top administrative officers have the powers to order for the arrest and imprisonment without trial of persons for renewable period of time ranging from three days to thirty days. They may renew the detentions indefinitely. There have been also been recorded instances of trials held at times that place the defendant at a disadvantage—either early in the morning or late at night. Other times, defendants are denied their right to counsel, and still other instances find the courts refusing to afford the defendants enough time to prepare for trial.
Due process lies at the heart of a citizen’s rights in relationship to his or her government. The dismal state of prisoners’ rights and criminal procedure in Cameroon is a serious issue that must be resolved lest the state continue to perpetuate such miscarriages of justice. As these prisoners—some of whom remain incarcerated while their cases have been lost or dropped—languish in the system, it is paramount that the media continues to expose the deficiencies of the legal system and the deplorable state of the prisons themselves. The Cameroonian government needs to prioritize and increase funding to prison expansion and reform, including the construction of new prisons to alleviate overcrowding, the increase of food provisions and medical treatment, and the increase in prison staff and training. The government should also crack down on prisoner abuse and torture by prosecuting those responsible. Finally, many instances of abuse of prisoners’ rights and faults in Cameroonian criminal procedure stem from an overburdened, inefficient, and often corrupt legal system. If and when the judiciary is expanded and cases are resolved effectively within their proper jurisdiction, particularly by traditional councils, the rate of these abuses will subside.
Over recent years, the Cameroonian government has demonstrated a commitment to improving women’s rights across the country. Cameroon is party to the major international treaties and forums concerning women’s rights, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Beijing Declaration Platform for Action. As such, it constitutionally recognizes gender equality and has actively encouraged women’s political participation at a national level. The Cameroonian government supports women’s initiatives, originating both from the Ministry of Women’s Affairs as well as from gender-related non-governmental organizations (NGO’s). Barriers to female education have been lifted and, to a certain extent, overcome: all Cameroonians have access to primary school education while secondary school is heavily subsidized, allowing for more girls to attend school. Gender equality has been integrated into higher education as well, evidenced by the fact that many Cameroonian universities offer courses and degrees in women’s studies.
Unfortunately, social, economic, and political inequality is still a reality for many women across the nation, especially in the rural areas. Women routinely face the oppression of traditionally-prescribed social roles in which they are confined to domestic, farm, and retail work while being simultaneously denied a voice in their families, societies, and local government. There is an overwhelming prejudice on behalf of men—and even women—that females are not competent to assume leadership roles in the community.
While the number of women working in the public, private, and military sectors has increased substantially over the last thirty years, women still face several career-related problems. There are several fields—law, medicine, business—in which women are seen as incompetent to participate. Even in these fields, women are often shut out of top-level decision-making positions and instead relegated to jobs such as administrative assistants, communications officers, and secretaries. Women are also prone to sexual harassment under a “sex-for-promotion” policy that still exists in public and private service.
Domestic violence and sexual abuse are still too prevalent in Cameroonian society. Not only are these incidents grossly underreported, but furthermore, when women do speak out against abuses they’ve suffered, the authorities often take their statements and then tell them to return to their husbands and attempt reconciliation in the same violent atmosphere. The courts also tend to be prejudiced against women who succeed in bringing domestic violence cases to
These issues do not just disenfranchise women, strip them of their human rights, and jeopardize their well-being; they also put society at risk. When one-half of a population is being oppressed and unfairly treated, the society as a whole will suffer from a retardation in political, economic, and social growth. Yet, the challenges in achieving gender equality are multi-faceted and complex. Social attitudes, traditions, and norms must be changed before women can achieve full equality with men. Yet, the government, civil society organizations, and individual citizens must come together to do their part by educating the public on proper gender relations. Women, especially in the villages, must have the systemic and social mobility to take political and economic leadership positions. Education equality must be rigorously continued. Laws concerning gender equality and women’s rights cannot exist solely on paper; the government must ferociously implement the standards and legal provisions it has signed and enacted.
Mob justice, or “jungle justice” as it is sometimes called, is when regular citizens take the law into their own hands and violently deliver judgment and punishment on an alleged criminal offender. In effect, the crowd becomes the executor of the law—only that this law is a direct and indisputable violation of human rights, taking life without due process and thereby putting the rest of society at risk for the same. Mob justice specifically violates two articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—the right to a fair trial (Article 10) and the right to stand innocent of a crime before being proved guilty (Article 11).
Unfortunately, mob justice is still a reality for many Cameroonians, especially those living in the rural parts of the country. According to the National Commission on Human Rights and Freedom, 40-50% of all complaints brought to the commission from 2007-2010 concerned mob justice. Examples of such mob justice include a mob roasting three suspected bandits alive in Douala in 2006; later that same year. a police inspector in Kumba was convicted of setting an innocent young man afire with kerosene because he suspected the youth of bicycle theft. In 2009, members of the Wone Bakundu village in the Southwest Province buried alive a man accused of witchcraft.
Mob justice arises from deficiencies in the legal system, particularly the lack of a strong, accessible police or security force in addition to the absence of a respected, effective justice system. Corruption also contributes to the problem: the vast majority of citizens are aware of the corruption rampant in the legal system and the security forces, so they will take the law into their own hands to avoid suspects from being set free or acquitted of charges on account of paying bribes to a police officer, gendarme, or judicial employee. In Cameroon, these deficiencies—especially in villages—create the perfect climate for mob justice. Legal reform, proper judicial training, and fortification of the local security forces are necessary to eliminate these issues.
Sources: The National Anti-Corruption Commission, Amnesty International, Transparency International, International Crisis Group, Joachim Arrey for Langaa Research and Publishing, National Commission on Human Rights and Freedom, BBC News, U.S. State Department: 2010 Human Rights Report-Cameroon.